First of all, let’s clear up a common misconception. Queer does not just mean gay. It’s an umbrella term for an identity which deviates from society’s perceived norm: heterosexual, or straight.
‘Queer’ is an umbrella term for anyone who is LGBT+. It concerns sexuality and/or gender.
Queer can refer to sexualities — gay, bisexual, pansexual, demisexual, asexual, aromantic — or it can refer to being gender-queer; i.e, any label that deviates from the perceived gender norm: the binaries, male and female.
(This image on the left explains it pretty well, don’t you think? Please, add to my definition or correct it if you think it’s missing something!)
The word ‘Queer’ is a reclaimed slur. If you do not fall under the umbrella of queerness, it is safe to assume that you cannot use it. At all. Why risk upsetting someone? Even as someone who identifies as ‘at least a bit queer’, I feel apprehensive about using it. It’s just that I feel that ‘queer’ fits me better than ‘LGBT+’ whilst I’m still questioning what label fits me best. If in doubt, just use ‘LGBT+’. People will understand.
Here is a handy list of identities that don’t just equal ‘gay’:
Every label except gay
Some queer people choose to use gay as their umbrella term: especially if they are in a same-gender relationship at that point. That’s up to them.
But generally speaking, if someone values their label, don’t invalidate it and just call them gay. Can we please stop saying that bisexual people, or anyone who does not identify as fabulously GAY AF… is just gay? Or otherwise lying to themselves, or others? This can be called Bi-Erasure.
-Refers to the denial of bisexuality’s existence or its validity as a queer label.
Bisexuals are a wonderful and important part of the LGBT+ community. They have the ability to experience attraction to more than one sex/gender.
Bisexuality comes under the umbrella term ‘Queer’.
A bisexual is bisexual, regardless of the following scenarios:
- In a gay/same-gender relationship
- In an otherwise queer relationship
- With a trans partner
- They themselves are trans
- In a polyamorous relationship
- They’re not attractive to you
- They are attractive to you
- They’re asexual/aromantic
- And yes, even if they’re in a completely straight-passing relationship and have never been with a member of the same gender.
A very close friend of mine identifies as bisexual but is happily married to a man. She has never been in a relationship or even sexual encounter with a woman — this does not make her any less queer! She still belongs in the community.
So do I, as someone who is queer (but still questioning as to which label exactly fits me) and also in a straight relationship! I have been with my male, straight partner for almost 4 years. I have never been with a woman or any other gender than male. I have no desire to be, but this does not make me any less queer. It is simply because I am in a relationship! But I know in myself that heterosexuality does not fit me well enough for it to be my label — and that’s my choice.
Youtuber ‘Onision’, who has a significant following of 2m subscribers, put out a video a long time ago saying that bisexual folk should not moan about how difficult it is to be bi, because they can simply date people of ‘the opposite sex’ — he argued that this is not something gay people can do. I feel like the stupidity of this argument is self-explanatory, but I’d love your opinions. What’s worse is that he is certainly not the only person to think this way.
Bi erasure, (or disregarding any of the lesser-appreciated queer identities), purely on the basis of them seeming straight or not being ‘gay enough’? It doesn’t just suck. It’s dangerous. Here’s why:
An aversion to bisexual people on the grounds of their bisexuality.
One of the common cruelties of bi-erasure is assuming that bisexual people are lying for ‘attention’. To me, this is unfathomable. Bisexual people can and do experience hatred and bigotry for being who they are. Why on earth would they welcome this attention?
Some of it can stem from homophobia: people can hate them just for having the ability to love someone of the same gender. The same homophobia can be directed towards pansexual folk, or anyone who has this ability. Just like gay people, every queer label can be hated just for their ability to love.
But sometimes biphobia is based on more than just this: gay people can be biphobic. This kind of biphobia aims to invalidate it as ‘not gay enough’ rather than ‘too gay’. Essentially, bisexual people can’t please anyone.
To erase or invalidate bisexual people and other queer labels often involves denying the existence of biphobia. If we deny a problem, the problem continues. Simple as that, really. Bullying and suicide rates of queer-but-not-gay people continue to sky-rocket with the self-same stats of gay people. We must direct funding, support and compassion to every queer individual, as they are all vulnerable to discrimination and bullying.
Moreover, they are all vulnerable to homelessness: whether you’re a gay, cis-male or a demi-bisexual, trans, black woman… if your parents are bigoted and willing to kick out their child for being gay, they will likely kick them out for being any sort of queer. This is in part because bigots treat all queer labels as just ‘gay’ and equate them all as unloveable. You see how far bi-erasure can go?
It is crucial that we see queer labels as different from gay — they come with their own struggles and stereotypes. But it is just as crucial that we see the overlaps in how they are treated, because this gives queer people a sense of community with other queer folk: their shared experiences.
2. Community and Pride
Feeling ‘gay enough’
This one hits pretty close to home for me.
Growing up I felt inexplicably close to the LGBT+ community. I wanted to go to pride and celebrate who I was: I did not feel particularly accepted for not being straight so I had not mentioned that I was queer. I was not even sure of my identity (I am still questioning). But what I did know, what I have always known, was that I was not straight. I am not gay, not bi, but certainly not straight. I cried a lot over it, growing up, because I was taught that being queer was bad and that being straight was the default, ‘normal’ setting. I could have benefitted a lot from finding other queer folk and sharing our experiences and feelings with one another. I could have benefitted a lot from feeling as though I was welcome at Pride events. I feel even less welcomed by the LGBT+ community now, because I am in a long-term, heterosexual relationship and have not yet decided on a label that fits me. As my friends came out with a solid label in mind (eg bisexual or gay or asexual) I felt even less valid. Was I even LGBT+ if I was neither, L, nor G, nor B nor T?
This has been upsetting to me at times. But for others, it can be outright devastating. Growing up and needing support, but feeling like you’re ‘not gay enough’ to ask for it? It’s just plain awful.
In short, all queer people deserve a sense of belonging when they find the LGBT+ communities online or elsewhere. They deserve to feel included at pride. If you feel like you identify as LGBT+, but you’re not any of the first 4 letters, that does not invalidate your identity.
As for allies? You are allowed to feel a sense of belonging in the LGBT+ community: I understand that. If your friends are LGBT and you love them dearly, it’s hard not to feel part of it all. But you don’t get a gold medal for being a decent person, so don’t expect one.
Straight People at Pride: The way I see it, as long as there aren’t too many straight people at pride (to the extent that it loses its original meaning and impact) then I don’t even have a problem with allies attending pride, as long as they acknowledge that they are not queer, they’re just a decent human being. As an ally, you should only attend pride if you know and respect its origins and why it is needed. It isn’t just a rainbow party for you to scream about how much you love Ru Paul’s Drag Race.
Oh and on the subject of drag, not all drag queens are gay. Not all drag kings are lesbians. And its not the same as being trans (although trans people can of course engage in drag, and they sometimes do!)
Distrusting our queer partners
When I told my boyfriend I was not straight, he literally did not care, and that’s nice. It changed nothing about our relationship, and that is what I wanted. I know that if I had asked for balloons and excited squealing, there would have been. He knows that I did not want that, and he does not care that I’m not even sure yet. He is secure in the fact that I still love him and have no desire to go off and experiment with other genders. I know I’m a little bit queer, I don’t need to test it to prove anything to myself or others.
When my aforementioned close friend came out as bisexual, though, someone asked if she was going to stay with her husband, or if she needed to go and be with girls.
When another friend of mine told her boyfriend she was pansexual, she has to explain to him that she still loved him and that it did not change anything. Another friend of mine told her boyfriend she was bi and he apparently found it very difficult to understand. Was she going to stay with him? She wasn’t gay, was she?
You hear the ‘bisexuals are greedy’ stereotype way too often. Growing up, an adult who was explaining bisexuality to me said that if I dated someone who was bi, they would eventually cheat on me because they need to feel satisfied by ‘both sexes’…. Wha??? I was also taught that they would eventually come out as gay.
Again, hearing that someone has the ability to love/have sex with more than one gender seems to get straight people so panicked and confused. Why do we assume that queer people in straight relationships will cheat on their partner, or eventually leave them? This culture of distrust of queer people — that they’re secretly gay, or can’t handle monogamy — ruins queer people’s relationships. They fear that their straight/cis partner will just label them as gay and leave them. The straight/cis partner fears infidelity or a decrease in commitment/attraction from the queer partner and leaves. The couple may fight more after one party comes out as queer. Their understanding of one another may lessen. Friends may get involved in the relationship, feeling it is their place to comment on whether the straight partner should trust the queer partner. I have not experienced a deterioration in my relationship since coming out, but many people have. What I did experience was a lot of fear. I was afraid to tell my partner that I am not heterosexual because I feared he would distrust me, think I’m just gay and leave me.
You should never fear coming out to your partner as queer. If they cannot understand it, they need to learn. If they refuse to understand it, they are choosing ignorance and you deserve better. But if bi-erasure and the invalidation of non-gay, queer identities disappeared… would this not improve such relationships? If we all understood queerness better, wouldn’t we all trust each other more?
As for trans people and other queer and non-binary genders: I do not wish to comment on an experience so far from my own. What I do know for sure is that coming out as trans to your partner will be exceedingly difficult if said partner does not understand the difference between sex and gender, or if they cannot see beyond the binaries of male/female.
I would like to clarify here that no individual gay person or organisation has made me feel invalidated. It seems to me like subtle messages from wider society: but I do know bisexual folk who have received hatred within the LGBT+ community itself. I am not the first or only person to write about this issue.
For example, my friend Sander — a trans man — recounts his experiences:
A Trans Person’s Experience
“One thing that I keep noticing is how all hangout spots are “gay bars”, or (far less common) “lesbian bars”. I’m a straight man, so I don’t feel like I’m supposed to be there, but hanging out at regular bars is still too much of a gamble, so I don’t really have anywhere to go.”
Hell, gay bars are great. Generally, they’re a safe and welcoming space for anyone in the LGBT+ community. But I can totally understand where Sander is coming from. He would likely be safer in a gay bar, but he is simply not gay, so would he really feel the sense of belonging he deserves?
Sander has also experienced discrimination and trans-exclusion within the LGBT+ community itself. He was told by a gay woman what his label should be: she insisted that he needed therapy for ‘choosing’ to be a man and implied that he was just a lesbian in denial. ‘It’s obviously fine to need a therapist,’ he told me, ‘but being trans is not a mental illness, and that is the most blatant transphobia I have ever experienced (I’m lucky, I know). It was really unpleasant to hear that from someone within the community, though.’
The fact that Sander feels lucky that the exclusion didn’t go further is very telling. He certainly isn’t the only person to have had such experiences. But even if he was, it is an issue worth considering because everyone deserves to feel welcome in the LGBT+ community.